Managing software outsourcing relationships in emerging economies: An empirical study of the Chinese small- and medium-sized enterprises

Steven Ji Fan Ren, Wai Ting Ngai, Wing Sing Cho

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are facing great challenges in their information systems (IS) outsourcing relationship management, especially with customized software outsourcing under conditions of technological uncertainty and transaction-specific investments. The problem may be even critical for Chinese SMEs in emerging economies characterized by institutional instability. This article draws on multiple theories to examine antecedents and consequences of the effectiveness of three important interorganizational governance mechanisms, namely, contractual-based and relational-based governance and vendor-specific investments. The results of a survey on 83 software outsourcing projects indicate some interesting patterns that Chinese SMEs use to manage their outsourcing relationships. We found that contractual governance is found to be the only effective mechanism when the outsourcing firm (client) perceives technological uncertainty. On the other hand, with the transaction-specific investments, relational governance, and reciprocal-specific investments by IS vendor would be preferred as effective mechanisms by the outsourcing firm. Our analyses also show that Chinese SMEs in emerging economies would rely on multiple governance mechanisms to enhance outsourcing success. Overall, the findings are in line with the studies stressing the importance of building partnership-style relationships and seeking reciprocal actions in sourcing exchanges.
Original languageEnglish
Article number5701664
Pages (from-to)730-742
Number of pages13
JournalIEEE Transactions on Engineering Management
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2011


  • Emerging economies
  • governance mechanisms
  • relationship management
  • small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)
  • software outsourcing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering

Cite this